The fourth in a series of articles I’m writing, looking at the output of a number of Vita-supporting companies from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining what the games they released were; (if the data is available) how well they sold; (in cases of them being ports) how well they ran; as well as a brief look at games which perhaps should have come to the console either in the west or in general.
All my previous articles have been centered around Japanese publishers (Bandai-Namco; Koei-Tecmo and Square-Enix respectively) due to the fact they’ve offered much better support of the handheld than western publishers. Among these western publishers there have been varying levels of lesser support and leading this group in my mind is Ubisoft, who at least provided a spree of decently-budgeted games early in Vita’s life, even if this evaporated fairly quickly as time has gone on.
Launch & 2012 – there in full force
Unlike the Japanese publishers I’ve examined in these articles, Ubisoft managed to have a much better launch showing on Vita mixing ports; existing IP’s and new games.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of their launch games was a brand-new title in their quirky puzzle-rhythm mashup series Lumines entitled Electronic Symphony. Just like they’d graced the launch of PSP with the franchise, the company also managed to show up for Vita’s first day on the market with a new game that many reviewers were describing as the handheld’s first “must have” title. It was easy to see why – the title looked gorgeous on the shiny new OLED screen and masterfully updated Tetris’ formula to create an addictive new puzzler. Sales numbers are unavailable for the game, but it’s likely it benefited greatly from being a standout of the console’s launch.
Speaking of standouts of the console’s launch, a port of the November 2011-released Rayman Origins, their seminal 2D platformer, also received rave reviews. The Vita version was an incredibly solid effort, translating the beautiful design to the console’s gorgeous OLED screen with ease, alongside maintaining the solid 60fps gameplay. Sadly, local co-op multiplayer was cut from the release, but a ghost mode that allowed you to challenge your friend’s runs was put in its place. Sales numbers are scarce for the port, but it’s worth noting that the title as a whole made a profit for Ubisoft.
In one of their more surprising moves, Ubisoft also partnered with mobile developers Gameloft to bring two of their most popular franchises – Asphalt and Dungeon Hunter – to the Vita at launch. The latter, a Diablo clone with the title Dungeon Hunter Alliance that had previously been available on PS3, was sloppily ported over with plenty of slowdown happening with lots of action on screen; yet to this day fills a niche that has remained relatively un-tapped on the console (isometric dungeon-crawler). The former, a Burnout clone entitled Asphalt Injection was heavily translated from a previous iOS release, yet was actually remarkable as being the only racing game on the handheld to target 60fps (although it often failed to meet this). Aside from this, it had a full showing of cars and tracks providing a solid alternative to the stripped-down Ridge Racer available at launch; but consumers still considered the product overpriced given the reduced price you could buy its mobile counterpart for.
Sadly, these would be the only Gameloft titles that Ubisoft brought to the console, as their Vita partnership appears to dissolve soon after this. To complete their launch lineup, the company also brought a late port of their music-rhythm game Michael Jackson: The Experience, one of the few examples of a game which had also been available on PSP being brought to Sony’s new handheld. Featuring vastly improved graphics and presentation over the last-gen version (or even the counterpart 3DS version), the title was an impressive outing on Vita, even if it was a game that didn’t interest much of the userbase.
Following their launch blitz, however, Ubisoft went oddly quiet on the Vita. They did have one major title in development that we’d known about for quite some time – a new Assassin’s Creed game, but other than this they revealed no plans about the future of their support for the console. This title eventually appeared in October 2012 as Liberation and was an interesting proposition for handheld gamers. Clearly a high-budget effort that managed to achieve the “console quality on the go” mantra, the title still struggled with performance and cut-down features compared to the console versions. Despite this, the game sold well at 600k units by February 2013, putting it in the upper tier of Vita sales.
Overall, then, launch and 2012 was a solid if unsurprising year for Ubisoft on Vita – considering they had been one of PSP’s biggest supporters among western publishers, it was expected that they’d show up in full force for Sony’s new handheld. Yet, cracks were already beginning to show with a reduced output in the latter half of the year and a lack of known upcoming titles for 2013.
2013 – a ‘Ray’ of missed opportunities
For whatever reason, Ubisoft had a much quieter year on Vita in 2013 compared to 2012 with just one title released – and although it was a fantastic release, it was a shame to see support evaporate so rapidly. Perhaps sales of their launch games wasn’t sufficient, but it was likely more a shift in the times as smaller-key spinoffs of key franchises became less viable.
Their release for the year was Rayman Legends, follow up to 2011’s Rayman Origins that was delayed from being an exclusive Wii-U title in February to a multi-platform title in August 2013. The Vita port was delayed slightly until September and frustratingly had a number of missing ‘invasion mode’ levels from the other versions that were eventually patched in to the game in November, but otherwise this was another triumph for Ubisoft on the handheld as the game received rave reviews.
Otherwise, Ubisoft remained notably quiet with no commitment to future Vita games and no other releases within the year. For me, what stood out about this was the great deal of missed opportunities they had to bring their older games to the handheld – particularly in the form of HD Collections. Due to PS3’s lack of backwards compatibility, Sony had started an initiative of porting PS2-era titles to the PS3 via ‘HD Collections’ starting with the God of War Collection – Ubisoft jumped aboard this bandwagon with Prince of Persia Trilogy in 2010 followed by Splinter Cell Trilogy in 2011 and Rayman 3 in 2012. Despite companies like Konami proving Vita was a viable market for these games to be re-sold yet again when they released the Metal Gear Solid Collection in 2012, Ubisoft did not follow suit and their HD ports remained PS3-only – a very disappointing decision.
Perhaps even more surprising was a retailer listing which never materialized – in the middle of 2012, UK retailer GAME listed Ghost Recon: Final Mission would be coming to Vita at some point, presumably developed by Ubisoft Sofia who handled 2011’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars and 2012’s Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. Nothing ever came of this, however, suggesting the game was quietly cancelled despite the fact that it would likely have been a boon to Vita’s hardware sales – especially if it made the most of the first ever dual-analogue handheld for precise third-person-shooter controls.
As such, 2013 remained a disappointing year for Ubisoft on Vita – despite an (eventually) great port of Rayman Legends, their support was simply not there and there were a lot of opportunities for games which made sense to come to Vita that were never taken. This wasn’t a situation that improved in future years as the company slowly wound down on the handheld.
2014 – a ‘Light’ of hope?
As with 2013, 2014 was highlighted by a sole game from Ubisoft – a undoubtedly great game, but still only a single release. The frustrating part was that it was built on Rayman Origin‘s engine, yet other titles which used this did not make the jump across.
This sole game was Child of Light, the beautiful hand-drawn 2D JRPG that mixed intriguing narrative; beautiful music and compelling gameplay into an all-round great package. Aside from being a great port, it was notable that Vita was one of the only platforms which received a physical release, marking an odd vote of confidence in the platform from Ubisoft. Thankfully, the game sold well enough to turn a profit, suggesting that sales on Vita (combined with other platforms) were solid.
Despite this, other viable games did not manage to find their way to the handheld. Chief among these is Valiant Hearts: The Great War, a game which runs on the UbiArt Framework – the same engine used to power Child of Light; Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends. This would’ve been an easy port to the Vita which never happened for unknown reasons, particularly as the company still seemed to have some love for Sony’s console, and was a game that plenty of fans were holding out to actually happen.
Other Ubisoft games from 2014 also skipped Vita, although whether all of these would’ve been technically viable is another question. Assassin’s Creed Rogue is the big one, the PS360 sequel to Black Flag that pushed the limits of what the 7th gen home consoles were capable of, yet was still a 7th gen game at its core. Also missing the handheld was Trials Fusion, the physics-based racing series that made its debut franchise appearance on PlayStation hardware with a PS4 version, that would have fit in nicely with other similar releases like Urban Trials Freestyle.
Like with the year before, 2014 remained a year where Ubisoft did show up on Vita, but only in a very diminished capacity. It’s a shame to see them miss opportunities to bring larger titles to the handheld, but it’s clear at this point that the company did not see Vita as any kind of core element of their business going forward despite the relatively decent press the console received through the launch of the Vita Slim and PSTV throughout 2014.
2015 – a very slow year
For the third year in a row, Ubisoft’s support in 2015 consisted of only one game – a delayed game at that, being a port of Tetris Ultimate that releasing on other platforms during 2014.
There wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the game and it provided a decent take on the classic puzzler gameplay, but given Ubisoft made much more effort with their earlier release Lumines Electronic Symphony on Vita, it came across as a little disappointing. As well, being a fairly low-budget game in general, it highlighted yet again that despite the company coming out strong for handheld in its initial year, they really didn’t have many plans for the console following this, despite relatively strong sales of games like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.
As usual, there were plenty of missed opportunities to support Vita in 2015 too. The mobile release Assassin’s Creed Identity, developed in the Vita-friendly engine Unity seemed like a shoe-in to do well on the handheld yet never appeared and remained iOS/Android only. This seemed like a strange decision as the title was clearly designed to be played in bite-sized chunks and would be a fairly easy porting job.
Similarly, Ubisoft Reflections’ experimental 3D platformer Grow Home – also developed in the Unity engine – managed to skip Vita entirely despite being the kind of artsy, low-budget effort that had seemed to thrive on the handheld just a year earlier in Child of Light.
With Vita’s hardware sales rapidly diminishing in the west, it was becoming more understandable why larger western publishers were continuing to ignore the handheld, yet that didn’t stop it from being incredibly disappointing to see great-looking titles which would be more than capable of running on it skip out entirely.
2016 – one last hurrah
Ubisoft had slipped into a comfortable trend on Vita by 2016, releasing one sole game on the handheld throughout the year – although it was a surprising announcement that definitely caught me off guard; a game in a franchise that I never thought would actually return to the handheld.
That franchise was Assassin’s Creed and the game itself was Chronicles, a compilation of three side-scrolling spinoffs to the main series. Developed in Unreal Engine, notably difficult to get running on Vita, the port was handled by Climax Studios, who had previously developed Smart As for the handheld as well as ported Dead Nation and Resogun across (you can read about their efforts in my article about porting studios). Their experience with the console probably had a hand in the title coming across (I suspect they have some fans of it among their team too), but it was ultimately Ubisoft that gave the green light for the game to be released on Vita. More than this, it received a physical release in both North America and Europe too, a rarity from a western publisher in 2016.
In spite of this good news, games like Grow Up (the sequel to Grow Home) were skipped despite being a decent fit for the handheld. At this point, it was far from surprising – it’s safer to assume that no games were coming, despite shock announcements like Assassin’s Creed Chronicles being made.
2017 & 2018 – the end
Unlike other articles in this series where I’ve at least managed to name a title per publisher that was coming to the Vita in 2017, Ubisoft have nothing. More than that – nothing they have announced really makes sense to release on Vita, with bigger games like Ghost Recon Wildlands and Assassin’s Creed Origins being far too powerful to run on Sony’s handheld.
What’s worth noting is that the company’s mantra seems to be shifting going forward – rather than the bespoke, unique titles they relied on in the past, Ubisoft increasingly seem to be shifting towards ‘games as a service’ – that is, one release with a heavy focus on online play that is constantly updated with new content going forward. This approach doesn’t particularly lend itself well to handheld games, and makes me wonder what their future with the Switch will be too.
In my opinion, Ubisoft were one of the most under-rated supporters of the PSP, bringing a great spread of titles ranging from unique spinoffs of their console franchises like Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines or Driver 76 to bespoke experiences like Lumines or Ghost Recon Predator. In the first year of Vita’s life, the company continued this mantra with almost-there spinoffs like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and unique new titles like Lumines Electronic Symphony.
Following this, from 2013 onwards, all of that stopped. Suddenly, the Vita simply became a downport machine for very specific titles and all of that early promise they showed was gone. I have to commend them for being one of the few western third parties to still release Vita games in 2016 – Assassin’s Creed Chronicles was a big surprise and a great release, but it’s a shame that so many other games which would’ve made perfect sense on the handheld during this period didn’t make the leap across.
What scared them off is anyone’s guess, but Sony’s rapid withdrawal from Vita development alongside dwindling hardware sales likely didn’t help. As such games like Ghost Recon: Final Mission remain nothing but a retailer listing; a cruel reminder of a future that almost happened, but didn’t quite. Still, I’m content enough playing great ports Rayman on my Vita – that alone almost makes up for everything else!